A 2018 report from Toast revealed that “attracting and retaining customers” is the third-toughest challenge for restaurants, which puts it just behind hiring and training staff and high operational and food costs. The high emphasis on customer acquisition means that there’s a shift towards multiple restaurant marketing strategies.
The same report highlighted that 88 percent of restaurants still use paid advertisements as their leading marketing strategy. However, that number is slowly declining with each passing year. The percentage of restaurants that are not using paid advertisements jumped to 12 percent from 5.6 percent in 2018 and 2017, respectively.
Businesses aren’t willing to spend as much money on advertising if the returns are yielding less-than-expected results. Fortunately, there are other restaurant marketing efforts that effectively reach the right audiences. With enough time (and a little bit of money), any restaurant can utilize the following skills to attract and retain customers:
- Claim online listings
- Set up a website (with a menu page)
- Respond to online reviews
- Be active on social media
- Optimize for SEO
Claim Online Listings
Today’s consumers are interacting digitally with brands. To increase a restaurant’s online exposure, you’ll need claim listings on popular sites.
At the top of the claimed sites list are the Big Four, aka Google, Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor. Depending on your audience and the services offered it might also be worth claiming on other notable sites like Grubhub or OpenTable.
Getting control of listings also cements your foothold on the restaurant’s reputation. With each listing, you can add or update contact information, add appealing photos, and acquire rave reviews.
In some cases, a better reputation is more than enough marketing material to convince customers to dine at the restaurant.
Take your Yelp listing, for example. A 2016 research paper from Harvard Business School revealed that even that a one-star rating increase on any Yelp listing equates to a 9 percent increase in revenue.
Create A Website (With A Menu Page)
Online listings can only help you for so long, and customers need to get as much information as possible about your business before they make a well-informed purchase decision. This is where your brand’s website can help.
On your site, you can tell customers more about the restaurant and feature customer reviews alongside the business’s own branding and style to make the online experience even more unique.
One important element of any restaurant site is the menu page. Most businesses believe that a simple PDF copy of the menu will suffice, but you’ll have to put in more effort than that to make it appealing to customers. After all, 93 percent of customers look at a restaurant’s menu before they dine out for the evening.
Not only are PDF menus outdated, but they’re also not noticed when Google “crawls” the site for important information. Creating an actual web page for the menu resolves that issue, which helps in exposure through higher SEO rankings (more on that later).
Respond to Customer Reviews
One of the most natural forms of restaurant marketing is via customer reviews. Positive reviews that highlight exceptional food and amazing staff engagement are effective social proof for any interested customers.
However, the way you respond to feedback, especially if it’s a negative review, is a marketable trait to consumers. Writing a well-crafted response to disgruntled customers is enough to convince 44 percent of customers to visit the restaurant.
This is because the simple act of responding to the review shows that you care about every customer’s experience. To continuously improve the food and service, you need feedback from as many customers as possible.
Responding to negative reviews shows that you’re constantly engaging with customers and are committed to improving the experience for future diners. Speaking of engaging with customers…
Utilize Social Media
Social media is now a part of everyday life so make sure that you use it to interact with potential and repeat customers alike through different platforms on a frequent basis. Doing so not only widens your online exposure, but it also gives you another opportunity to market the restaurant’s brand and offerings to new customers.
Social media presence is becoming a popular strategy for the industry. Data from Cornell University shows that about 75 percent of independent restaurants and 59 percent of chain and franchise brands use social media as a way to attract diners.
Toast’s report showed Facebook as the most popular social media channel for restaurants in 2018. This could be because Facebook Pages act as both a listing page and a social media channel in one.
However, the report also showed the overall usage for Facebook drop by five percent between 2017 and 2018. In that same time, the industry’s usage of Instagram increased by six percent. Instagram’s focus on high-quality images means that restaurants can effectively use it to display appealing photos of its menu offerings (a feast for the eyes, if you will).
Aside from photos, you can also share videos, the menu, and even customer reviews. Just like responding to reviews, constant activity and engaging with other users on social media shows that you have a continued interest in improving the marketing and service efforts of the restaurant.
Optimize for SEO
Research shows that 35 percent of all search queries are local, and optimizing your listings, social media channels, and website to show up on the first page of local search engine results pages (SERPs) can attract new eyes to the restaurant.
For your brand’s website, you can implement schema markup code on the menu, contact information, and first-party reviews, which helps search engines show important details to searchers.
Those first-party reviews can also contribute to the creation of rich snippets on its SERP entry, which appears as a star rating along with a running tally of the total number of reviews left on your site. Search engines also reward higher search rankings to your listings on Yelp and Google if they all have the same updated information about the restaurant.
Manually correcting or updating contact data such as the phone number, hours of operation, and address are correct across all listings can be tedious and time-consuming, but there are online citation solutions available that can expedite the process for you.
An Effective Restaurant Marketing Strategy For All Restaurateurs
It’s important to note that these strategies don’t just work for new or up-and-coming restaurants. Long-standing establishments or popular franchises can utilizing these marketing skills to increase exposure and attract more customers.
You might not see the changes immediately, but continuing to use these skills on a regular basis will help you acquire and retain loyal customers in the long run.